How to stay productive in the age of distraction is a constant struggle. How can we get anything done when we are always being interrupted by push notifications? It is still possible if we become more aware of how to structure our time.
The following are some company norms that might be hurting your employee’s productivity, and how to work against them:
1. Always expecting a quick response
If immediately responding to every email or message is part of your company’s expectations; you might want to rethink how you’re working. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely found that there are three costs to switching between tasks every time we receive an email:
Time Cost: When we are constantly switching between tasks, we lose a lot of time. One study found that it took an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for people to get back to their original task.
Performance Cost: Distractions have a negative impact on the performance of the task at hand.
Stress/ Emotional Well-Being: Interruptions also have an effect on people’s well being. Constantly switching between tasks tires and depletes us.
There were some days at work where 3 hours would go by, and I still hadn’t completed a task that I meant to complete when I stepped into the office. When I started to really take charge of my productivity, dedicating 25 minutes at a time to one task and turning off all email and text notifications, I realized how much more I got done in a shorter period of time. It’s important to encourage this type of working environment to get the most out of everyone’s time. Try not to expect your coworkers to respond immediately, if it is something truly urgent, give them a call or step into their office.
2. Forgetting to set deadlines
Although some may dread deadlines, they actually help us prioritize and understand tasks. Could you imagine if, in school, you weren’t given any due dates, but were just told that each assignment was to be done as soon as possible? How would you know where to start? Surprisingly, this happens a lot in the working world. Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time management coach, talks about how “deadlines can be energizing and help you to sharpen your focus, set priorities, collaborate effectively with a team, and get work done, all while keeping projects on track and on schedule.”
Other research done by two business professors indicates that individuals who were given a series of interim, weekly deadlines for completing portions of the job, performed significantly better than those who were given only one due date. They concluded that if you want a job done right and done on time, set a series of deadlines, not just one.
3. Awarding working long hours
I’ve had many people tell me that when they first started working at their job, they were told that they were expected to come early and stay late. However, working long hours doesn’t improve efficiency. The Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” That means if you give yourself 8 hours to complete a 2 hour task you’ll end up taking all 8 hours to finish the work. There’s a lot of research that suggests that regardless of our reasons for working long hours, overwork does not help us.
Not only is working long hours not more efficient, but it can also be detrimental to our work. Working long hours creates more stress, increases the likelihood of making mistakes, and makes you lose sight of the bigger picture. Encourage employees to finish projects, not to stay late at work.
Reality is we all probably check our emails and phone too frequently, don’t set solid deadlines and think those who stay at the office the latest are the hardest working. Luckily, there are ways we can adapt to the age of distraction and ways we can learn to think differently about productivity so we still get the most out of our time at work!